Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Clean Power

New Low Energy Water Treatment Purifies, Desalinates and Makes Hydrogen, Too

university of colorado researchers develop microbial fuel cells that treat wastewater, create electricity and produce hydrogenIn an amazing sustainability quadruple play, researchers at the University of Colorado Denver are working on a fuel cell that can desalinate water, treat wastewater and generate electricity in a single process, while producing hydrogen gas that is re-used to make the treatment process run efficiently. What’s amazing about it is that the operation is run by microscopic living organisms that exist all around us and even inside of us, otherwise known as microbes – yes, microbes.

Microbial Fuel Cells

Fuel cells produce energy through a chemical reaction, so the use of living beings might sound a bit far fetched but let’s not sell the little critters short. After all, microbes came to the rescue of all human life when our planet was viciously attacked by alien invaders with superior technology (at least according to H.G. Wells in the sci-fi classic War of the Worlds). More to the point, researchers have been already demonstrated the ability of microbes to generate electricity as they metabolize food, and the result has been an emerging generation of fuel cells that can scavenge energy from parts of the environment where large colonies of bacteria can be found, which basically means you can get a fuel cell to run on wastewater or even on mud.

The New Super-Duper Desalinating Microbial Fuel Cell

The Colorado researchers have stepped up the microbial fuel cell – wastewater connection to include a desalination capability, and that’s where it gets interesting. They were stumped for a while on how to get the whole operation to run efficiently, until they investigated the potential for storing the hydrogen waste gas from the process. Building on research conducted at Penn State University, the team produced a study demonstrating that the process results in enough hydrogen to run the desalination component. Not only that, it creates excess hydrogen that can be put to other uses.

The U.S. Navy and Microbial Fuel Cells

The Office of Naval Research is behind the Colorado study, which should come as no surprise.  For obvious reasons, the U.S. Navy has a long term interest in developing high efficiency desalination processes, and now it foresees a future in which entire ships are powered by microbial fuel cells which can scavenge energy on-the-go from seawater. Bio-based fuel cells and batteries are also of great interest to other branches of the armed services, so it’s a safe bet that microbial fuel cells will cross over into mainstream civilian use…especially if the incoming Congress continues funding for new energy research.

Image: Water by Pink Sherbet Photography on

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


#1 most loved electric vehicle, solar energy, and battery news & analysis site in the world.


Support our work today!


Power CleanTechnica: $3/Month

Tesla News Solar News EV News Data Reports


EV Sales Charts, Graphs, & Stats


Our Electric Car Driver Report

30 Electric Car Benefits

Tesla Model 3 Video

Renewable Energy 101 In Depth

solar power facts

Tesla News

EV Reviews

Home Efficiency

You May Also Like


Competitors Represent the Next Generation of Energy-Savvy Architects and Engineers Who Will Build Our Clean Energy Future

Clean Power

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced the launch of the American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize. The prize was launched during today’s NextGen Geo, a live...

Policy & Politics

NREL Researchers Work To Transform Seawater Into Drinking Water as We Commemorate World Water Day 2021

Autonomous Vehicles

Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States of America, and Kamala Harris will break through many barriers to become the...

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.